Machelle Sanders, secretary of the state's department of administration, will chair a new task force designed to create economic stability, eliminate health disparities and achieve environmental justice in North Carolina. Screenshot via UNC-TV

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Thursday the creation of a new task force to address disparities in communities of color that have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A new executive order establishes the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental and Health Equity Task Force to focus on five areas: access to health care; patient engagement in health care settings; equal opportunities in business development and employment; environmental justice and inclusion; and education. 

N.C. Department of Administration Secretary Machelle Sanders will lead the task force named in memory of Andrea Harris, co-founder of the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development. Harris, who spent decades advocating on behalf of minority- and women-owned businesses, died on May 20.

Among the directives include oversight by the North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office to ensure that Covid-19 relief funds are fairly distributed and expanding the capacity of the Historically Underutilized Business Office to provide small historically underutilized businesses with access and resources.

“We know that Black and minority-owned businesses are often overlooked and under-resourced. Too many of these businesses have been excluded from Covid-19 funds,” Cooper said during a press conference. 

Data continues to show how the Covid-19 disease is disproportionately affecting communities of color. African Americans represent approximately 22% of North Carolina’s population where race is known but accounted for 30% of confirmed Covid-19 cases and 34% of deaths as of June 1, the governor said. The Latinx community makes up 39% of confirmed cases although they represent only 10% of the state’s population.

The state’s department of health and human services will partner with local health entities to ensure residents, specifically those who are uninsured, have access to Covid-19 testing and related health care. A new “Check My Symptoms” web tool allows users to check their symptoms online and determine if they’re recommended for Covid-19 testing. There’s also a portal to search the nearest testing locations

“Addressing disparities in health and health care is important not only from an equity standpoint but also for improving health more broadly,” Sanders said.

According to NCDHHS, there were 31,966 confirmed Covid-19 cases statewide and 960 deaths as of June 4. In Mecklenburg County, 4,842 confirmed cases were reported and 101 Covid-related deaths.

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